LaMichael James has been virtually nonexistent on the gridiron for the San Francisco 49ers this season.
After remaining idle for all but the last four regular season games for the 49ers last year in his rookie campaign, James has appeared in just two this season – and carried just seven times for 31 yards.
In 2012, James provided a spark at the end of the year, carrying 27 times for 125 yards. He returned 14 kicks for 417 yards, or almost 30-yards a touch on that front.
During the playoffs, James once again provided a change-of-pace for San Francisco, running 11 times for 65 yards and a touchdown.
It looked like he was on his way to becoming a key component for the 49ers’ offense, but a knee injury in the preseason kept him off the field for the first four games and San Francisco has yet to incorporate him into the offense in any real capacity.
“His development has been fine,” Harbaugh said on Monday, according to CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco. “He’ll be back playing. I know the talk about insurance and etc. It’s no slight to LaMichael. LaMichael is very good player. And he’s a very valued member of our team.”
The 2012 second round pick of the 49ers, James took to Twitter to proclaim, “I’m not trying to be insurance.” A comment he later deleted and claimed had nothing to do with his situation with San Francisco.
The 49ers are 4th in the NFL in rushing yards per game at 141.7. Long-time running back Frank Gore ranks fifth in the league with 477 yards and his backup Kendall Hunter is more than capable. Anthony Dixon has served as the third-stringer, again a highly capable backup.
So where does this leave James?
Jim Harbaugh says he has a place with the team and he is valued.
“We definitely all value LaMichael as a backup running back — like a two,” Harbaugh said, according to the report from Maiocco. “And there’s going to come a time like last year when he’s fully in the mix and depended on. And that time will come again.”
It’s impossible to say what the real story is behind James. Is there a lack of confidence in him? Is he trade bait? Is he indeed an insurance policy? Or could the 49ers be holding him back to provide a different look at the end of the season?
Who knows, but LaMichael James looked like a promising young back in his limited action in 2012.